- Ignore him and run your own campaign on the assumption that, at some point, he will flame out
- Strategically drop criticisms of him as you focus on your own message but show your supporters that you have the guts for a fight when needed
- Take him on directly and demonstrate what a phony candidacy his is and see if you can turn the media from fawning press agents into the objective force they’re supposed to be
“Thank you, my fellow Americans. I want to talk to you today about the elephant in the room – Donald Trump. He is leading the polls, by a good measure. He is flamboyant. He says bold things. He is a glib entertainer and he makes for good headlines. He counter-punches, as he says, very well. He is rich, really, really rich as he often tells us. He is smart, very, very smart as he waves around his excellent Wharton education. He is a terrific negotiator, which I believe has been mostly true in his deal-making career, with some mistakes along the way – as is to be expected in any successful life.
“So, Mr. Trump has made quite a splash on the political circuit, just as he did in his reality television career. He’s made that splash through force of personality and boldness, just as he did on his TV series. He drops sound bites that garner huge attention, just like those politicians he says he despises. He calls leaders of the country “stupid.” He insults women. He discriminates against various races and cultures, particularly Mexican immigrants who he considers rapists and thieves. He doesn’t apologize for he sees not what he does wrong. He may skip to another subject quickly, or he may say, 'But I love women. Women love me. You’ll see, I’ll the best president for women…Hispanics love me! I’ll be the best president for Hispanics.' Then he goes out and insults them again.
“Just like the politicians he lambastes in his rants – he says one thing, and then says a contradictory thing, trying to find the right note to appeal to the group he just insulted. He never lays out how he will do things, other than building a multi-billion dollar wall which he, of course, says he can do because he’s a 'builder, that’s what I do.'
“He may be a builder. He may be a deal-maker. What he is right now, though, is a politician. Sound bites. Big talk without specific backup. Made for TV speeches with no substance. Criticisms but no solutions other than to trust him, like many politicians before him have asked you. He is all that he claims to not be. And it’s time he is called on it.
“Many in the field, and I was one for a while, are careful not to criticize Mr. Trump because they want to win over his voters when he gets out of the race. Also because we know that we really can’t beat Mr. Trump in a head-to-head insults contest. He follows no rules, has no discretion, and how do you beat that? But if we allow Mr. Trump to do as he’s been doing, he won’t get out of the race and those voters may well stick with him. It’s fun to poke 'career politicians' in the eye and claim he knows better than they how to run the country.
"But, my friends, today – he is a politician. Let me pause a moment and say it again: Donald Trump is a politician and, at the moment, the best politician, as he defines the word, in the bunch. He uses his excellent marketing skills just like P.T. Barnum did to create an image of boldness, of straight talk and an image that promotes the ability to do something, on the strength of his personality and business experience. Just like P.T. Barnum he makes you believe what he wants you to believe based on strong marketing skills and good line of blarney.
“So, today, I want to lay out five issues for you. Five issues that I have thought through, discussed with experts in their fields, and come to conclusions on how I can put policies in place to improve these five areas. The areas are: the economy and jobs, education for our children, national security for us all, the equity in pay and health for women and immigration.
“I will be specific, as my policy thoughts are specific. I will detail my plans. And, when I’m done, I challenge Mr. Trump to do the same. Now, Mr. Trump may call this speech boring -- but this speech is about how I want to improve your lives. That is not boring. That is crucial. That is what elections are about.
"These are the issues most important to the most Americans. And these are the issues I will tackle today. I’ll talk specifics about other issues in the future, and the same challenge stands: Mr. Trump, tell us your plans for making lives of all Americans better. Be specific. Let the voters decide who among us is best qualified and prepared to be their next President based on facts and policies, not based on insults and sound bites.
“To Mr. Trump I say, I will talk specifics about policy. I will not ‘counter-punch’ your personal or substance-less attacks. We have no time for those kinds of games. We have millions of people who need help, who need federal policies to help, who need national leadership to build them up, not tear everything down.
“It’s time to leave the political games behind and to lay out for the American people our visions for America. It’s time to take this campaign seriously. To the voters I say, message received. You want straight talk from those of us who run for office. You’re tired of the prepared talking points and of us avoiding direct answers to your questions. I hear you. And here are my policies for those five issues.”
Then, I’d list the specifics in each of those areas and let people base their decision on whether I’m qualified to be president on policy proposals and temperament. If they don’t vote for me based on those things, why would I want to be president? At some point, this election will be decided on specific policy differences among the candidates. Candidates have to stop trying to match Trump. You cannot beat him if you try to follow his rules. To get there, you have to silence the bully in the room and force him to give specifics rather than hyperbole and tell us all what he would do if elected.
I’m confident that once that happens, Mr. Trump no longer will be the front runner and he’ll be trying to find a graceful exit from the race that allows him to maintain some semblance of his dignity. And that’s a low bar, I know.